And so the race that never was reaches what could charitably be described as its climax. Manchester United host Manchester City at Old Trafford on Monday night in a game that should have been as pivotal to the this year’s Premier League title battle as it was last term.
Instead, with eight games left, 15 points separate the Manchester clubs and if City were all parties and smiles last season, then the ‘noisy neighbours’ have been well and truly silenced over the course of a season where United have proved far, far too good for anybody else in the chasing pack.
I use the term ‘chasing pack’ loosely, because that hasn’t been the case since November. Credit, of course, goes to Sir Alex Ferguson and his side who, stung by the late-season collapse and the last-day drama that handed the title to Roberto Mancini’s side in 2011/12, have relentlessly clocked up the points in a remarkable manner.
No side has ever won 25 of their first 30 matches of a league campaign, and it is true that United have set a scintillating pace.
But for City, this year has been dreadful.
Admittedly, we will never know what would have happened had Robin van Persie left Arsenal for the blue side of Manchester rather than the red, but even still, by any criteria Mancini has underperformed woefully this season and he can count himself lucky should he still be in the Etihad Stadium hotseat come August.
The support of City’s fans for the man who ended their 34-year trophy drought by winning the FA Cup and then league championship is admirable in this day and age, but from an outsider’s point of view Mancini needs to buck his ideas up.
To be 15 points behind with the squad that he has so expensively assembled is such a poor return it beggars belief, and that is even before we get to his record in Europe, which is nothing short of pitiful (and not just with City).
Yes, he could end the season with another FA Cup winners’ medal, but nothing about the way City have either played or conducted themselves this season gives you much confidence about the future.
Big-name players have sulked around, putting in performances way below par, and I am far from convinced all is right between manager and squad.
What’s more, I can’t get beyond the suspicion that had United not so uncharacteristically thrown the title away last season, the Italian would have been long gone by now.
There is absolutely no chance of lightning striking twice, and I expect United to cement their position as Premier League top dogs with a win over their rivals on Monday.
They are 23/20 to do exactly that – the draw is 12/5 and City 11/5 – and you should be getting on the hosts big time.
Punters registering with bwin today can claim a free £20 bet and placing this on United to take the derby spoils would return £43 if successful.
Now you could argue that United don’t need to win, and that is true. In fact, they could get beaten 10-0 and it wouldn’t make any difference, but Ferguson will not want his triumph to be tinged with defeat here.
The Scot has already warned that City won’t ‘derail’ their title bid and he will be ensuring his players are right at it for the first time since Real Madrid came to town.
City just aren’t playing well enough to make you truly believe they can get a win. Mancini’s side have only won three of the last seven in the Premier League, and their away form is way below standard.
The Citizens have won just seven of their 15 games on the road, scoring just 20 goals and failing to score five times. To put that into context, only six teams have drawn a blank on their travels more often, which, when you think about the attackers Mancini has at his disposal, is quite embarrassing.
And although United had a bit of trouble against Madrid in the Champions League and Chelsea in the FA Cup, they remain phenomenally consistent at Old Trafford.
Ferguson’s side have won 14 of their 15 home games this season, scoring 39 goals, and with a record of 25 league wins, do you really want to be against them? Exactly.
It is 23/20 that United get revenge for the 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford last season by all but clinching the title with a win on Monday – you would be mad not to be on it.